Police monitoring social media networks to anticipate crime

Police forces are expensing additional resources on monitoring and analysing social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter in a bid to anticipate and prevent crime, according to a report in The Herald today.

The paper’s chief reporter, Lucy Adams, claims that new software being trialled during the Olympics to predict where and when crime and social disorder may take place could be adopted by police in Scotland, England and Wales.

Adams says that details emerged on the anniversary of last summer's riots breaking out in London and follow recommendations for a central hub to analyse patterns such as chatter and language across social media sites.

She writes: “The technology would make it easier for police to stop public disorder by picking up at an early stage should large groups of networkers be agitating over social tensions.

“A report by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary in England and Wales, Sir Denis O'Connor, calls for an ‘all- source’ information hub drawing together data from across social media.”

Adams claims that activity on sites such as Twitter has already been used as a predictive tool, and earlier this year researchers at the University of California revealed how they had created a computer model that allows them to predict the stock market by scanning social networks.

Gordon Scobbie, deputy chief constable of Tayside Police and the lead officer for social media within the UK police, is quoted by The Herald as saying: "In my national role in terms of social media and engagement we will be looking, post-Olympics, to develop this capability.

"We all need to understand the impact that social media has. We have no choice but to develop the anticipatory aspect to this."

Last week a British teenager was arrested on suspicion of "malicious communication" after sending abusive tweets to the UK's Olympic high diver, Tom Daley.

DCC Scobbie added: "There is a big issue around those people who are trolling and hiding behind fake or anonymous accounts.

"I can understand why this is necessary in countries where freedom of speech is restricted but in the UK I think if you've got something to say – as long as it's respectful – there is no need to be anonymous.

"We need to respect freedom of speech but equally we need to keep people safe from harm and online harassment and bullying is a big problem."

In November, The Herald revealed how senior police officers had held talks with Twitter, Facebook, Google and BlackBerry to see how information could best be shared for criminal investigations and how officers might be trained in social media.